Former Attorney General Bill Barr accused former President Donald Trump Thursday of practicing “extortion” on the Republican Party by endorsing his own batch of candidates in “pursuit of a personal agenda” at a time when the GOP should be making huge electoral gains.
“This pursuit of a personal agenda and personal power is weakening the Republican Party at a time when it could have a historic victory and make historic progress in ‘making America great again,’” Barr said in an interview published on Bari Weiss’s “Common Sense” Substack.
“The tactic that Trump is using to exert this control over the Republican Party is extortion,” the former AG added. “What other great leader has done this? Telling the party, ‘if it’s not me, I’m going to ruin your election chances by telling my base to sit home. And I’ll sabotage whoever you nominate other than me.’ It shows what he’s all about. He’s all about himself.”
Barr told Weiss the “sharp leftward turn” of the Democratic Party is creating possibilities for Republicans to “seize a decisive victory” along the lines of Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980.
But instead of taking advantage, Barr claimed the party is wasting precious time purging members it considers RINOs, or Republicans in Name Only.
“This is how I see the Republican Party: There’s never been more consistent conservatism within the Republican Party than there is today,” he said. “The idea that there are RINOs, people that really don’t support Republican principles, is simply not true.
“What the president is defining as RINOs are people who are true blue Republicans and conservatives but who just have a problem with Trump personally. This is all personal to Trump,” he continued.
The former president, Barr went on, wields his power by forcing the party to accept his agenda and his candidates or threatening: “I’m taking my ball and going home.”
“‘I will sabotage anyone you put up.’ He not only does that in the presidential election, but he’ll also do that in state elections. It’s my person or it’s sabotage,” he said.
Since being ousted in the 2020 presidential election, Trump has focused on paying back those whom he thinks wronged him during his four years in office, with special attention to the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Earlier this month, Rep. Liz Cheney, one of two Republicans on the House select committee investigating the riot, lost her primary race in Wyoming to Trump-backed Harriet Hageman.
Of the group of 10, only two have survived to face opponents in the general election.
In the wide-ranging interview, Barr, who announced he was stepping down as attorney general on Dec, 14, 2020, also weighed in on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s alleged ties to Russia during the 2016 election and the FBI raid on the former president’s Mar-a-Lago Florida resort.
He said that he had “no regrets” on how he handled the Mueller report but criticized the special counsel, saying Mueller “threw this hot potato into the political process and the body politic.”
“I don’t think he was on top of his game. I think he made some very serious errors. The whole reason [former deputy attorney general] Rod Rosenstein brought him in is to have someone authoritative deal with it,” Barr said. “Once this issue was raised, it was important to have someone speak to the country and tell them what he had found.
“But he goes out and hires partisan Democrats to make up his investigative team, which means half the country is going to be suspicious from the very beginning,” he went on. “That defeated the whole purpose of naming him. I think it was pretty evident within a few months of his taking the position that there had been no collusion.
“But instead of stopping it at that point and letting the country move on, he took two instances that clearly were not obstruction and which even his final report doesn’t try to argue were obstruction,” Barr concluded.
Speaking about the Jan. 6 rampage in which a mob of the former president’s supporters converged on the Capitol to disrupt certification of the 2020 election results, Barr said it was a “shameful incident” but not one that rose to the level of a constitutional crisis.
“I don’t think it was a constitutional crisis in the sense of the Constitution failing, which would be the Biden administration actually being stopped from taking office,” he said. “But it was a shameful episode. It was a shameful riot. And the president certainly precipitated it.”
He also defended the integrity of the FBI, which has come under attack from Trump and his supporters following the Aug. 8 raid that searched for classified documents removed from the White House.
”Number one is that I think a lot of the attacks on the FBI are over the top because a decision like this is not made by the FBI,” Barr sid. “In fact, I don’t think the FBI would push a decision that it’s best to go in and search and obtain those documents after being jerked around for a year and a half.”
“I think the idea that the FBI is the problem here is misplaced,” Barr added.
He also cautioned people against leaping to conclusions about whether Trump broke any laws by storing the documents in Florida because much of the information about what they contain is still unknown.
“One: What is the nature of the highly classified information? How sensitive were these documents? Second: What is the evidence, if any, of active conceit by the president or those around him in Mar-a-Lago to mislead the government?’” Barr said.
“Until you answer those two questions, it’s hard for me to say whether or not it was justified. I think people who are taking a knee-jerk position on both sides really should wait and see what that evidence is.”
When asked if he thought Attorney General Merrick Garland would decide to prosecute Trump over the cache of sensitive documents, Barr suggested “exacerbating circumstances” would be necessary to take such a drastic step, “like very sensitive information and information that shows that the president knew what he was doing and that he misled the government.”